December 13, 2021
In November Congress passed the $1.2 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (BIF), and while the total cost of the package and the political drama that went along with it consumed the headlines for more than a month leading up to the 228-206 vote, not many fly fishers realize the details behind what was broadly termed the “green” elements of the deal. Infrastructure is often broadly painted as roads and bridges, but in fact the bill contains $55 billion for water infrastructure, and much of that will go toward improving or conserving freshwater ecosystems, many of them on public lands.
The BIF authorizes $1 billion to remove, replace and restore culverts that fish cannot pass, which could open up thousands of miles of headwater spawning sites that are becoming especially critical in a warming climate. And while the deal did not include funds for U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative—a $17 billion proposal to breach the four lower dams on the Snake River—it does fund $4.5 billion for “watershed restoration,” which includes $2.4 billion to support the removal, rehabilitation, and retrofit for dam safety, and environmental improvements, and grid resilience.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of all headwater streams in the West are negatively impacted by abandoned mines that often spew acid mine drainage into nearby watersheds. The BIF establishes a new program and authorizes up to $3 billion to clean up these legacy mines in the western United States. The BIF will also invest $4 billion to clean up hundreds of thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells that leak methane and other toxins, and pose serious health risks to both wildlife and local communities.
The BIF also includes $5.85 billion for irrigation and water supply infrastructure and $1.85 billion for water recycling, desalination, and water conservation, and $600 million for river basin functionality, all of which could result in more water in drought-impacted Western rivers.
“At this moment in our nation’s history, investment in rivers couldn’t be more critical. By prioritizing rivers and clean water, Congress is addressing urgent needs in our communities, from public health and safety to environmental justice and the economy,” said Tom Kiernan, President and CEO of American Rivers.